Sunday, February 28, 2010

That Second Chance

"Listen," I sighed, frustrated. "He drinks Michter's on the rocks and always keeps his back to the dining room. If you don't get a chance to get a look at him at the table," I continued, pushing bland shredded lettuce around on my plate, "Try to take a moment when you're at the computer to look over and make sure it's him. What happened last week crosses my mind every day," I added, and looking up at the owner as I said this, our gazes met. He understood. The missed opportunity to shine last Tuesday really troubled us both.

Maybe you're thinking, C'mon. Isn't this a bit much? Yeah, it is. To the restaurant it means so so much. Our success is largely determined by what he writes next week. On a personal level, it's always important to me to do my best at whatever I approach, so last Tuesday was a disappointment to me. I felt off my game before he came in and then was caught completely off guard once we realized the situation.

"I wish I'd known these things about him before I waited on him," I muttered, taking a bite of hotdog stew (not joking).

It was a week later, this past Tuesday in fact. We were having our daily preservice meeting around the bar, which includes taking note of the featured items on the menu that night, addressing any changes on the menu, announcing 86d items, and talking about service etiquette. Of course he was brought up again because we expected his last visit any time now.

Finishing eating, I racked my dishes and took a couple minutes to primp in the bathroom before heading upstairs to adjust the lights in the dining room. I had my section and it was shaping up to be a smooth Tuesday night. The hostess approached me, telling me to expect a six and a seven top, right behind the other. Awesome. The night will go quickly and I should make some decent money.

About twenty minutes into service, the owner caught me walking to the bar to pick up drinks. "_____ _______ is here, at table 16," he whispered out of the corner of his mouth. "He's all yours if you want him." I just looked up, grinning from ear to ear. "Oh yeah--I got this," I told him excitedly. I couldn't believe my luck-- he came in again on my shift! Now, he was in another girl's section. "I'll have your new six-top covered so you can give him all your attention," the owner told me, and we were both smiling.

Grabbing a pitcher of water I headed right over, cool and confident, reciting the specials rapidly in my head. I greeted the table, noticing yet again that he faced the window so that I had to address his back while featuring the specials. I thought he would order his usual glass of bourbon, but sold him on one of our new, specially made cocktails. Cool! After taking the drink order I headed straight for the bar and called on another owner/food and alcohol expert to concoct this drink that he, himself, invented. (Side note: he creates most of our specialty cocktails and people love them. It makes me feel proud to work at a place where we have someone in-house creating original, delicious libations!)

In an instant I'd assumed a completely assertive, take-charge attitude. I directed someone to prepare chips and dip for the table ("No broken pieces"), had my cocktails in the works, and ran downstairs to confer with the food runner about position numbers. "And I want to help run the food," I called back to him as I rounded the corner, taking the chips and dip from my coworker. I was able to give orders plainly; we all understood the gravity of the situation and worked together as efficiently as possible. The table received their drinks and I took their order, carefully punching it into the computer and adding his name at the end. Meanwhile, I tended to my other tables, replacing glasses of wine, peppering soup, and leveling out a wobbly two-top.

His table received their appetizers and entrees without incident, seemingly enjoying everything and occasionally beckoning me over for more drinks. At one point he decided to switch to beer, so I asked him if he preferred a 12 or 20 oz, to which he playfully asked, "Are you challenging me?" "A 20 oz it is," I returned, and we both laughed. Yay! That was an unexpected and successful exchange, I thought. Aside from me delivering beers and vodka martinis to the table when asked, I stayed away, careful to be invisible though in the periphery so that I could be available when needed. This by the way, is a tricky art I'm forever trying to perfect: that of being around and not being around all at once.

Dessert time came around and the four of them shared the three desserts featured. Everything went seamlessly in my opinion. Everything hit the table promptly, I tended to all of their needs, speaking clearly and confidently, the food was beautiful. Downstairs I was able to talk to one of the owners for a minute. "So who recognized him?" "Everyone did," he responded, grinning. "The hostess noticed him right away, ______ saw him walk through, about five people recognized him before he reached his table." Awesome. We bumped fists in victory, and he added that he would "take care of me" for having lost half of my section. Cool.

Once his table left, we all breathed a collective sigh of relief. I skipped downstairs and found Chef to let him know that his dinner was over. We were all happy with how the experience went.

Later that night I was sitting around with a couple of friends who'd visited me at the restaurant. While into my second beer I got two texts: one from the owner and the other from the front-of-house manager, who hadn't even worked that night. Terrific job tonight. We are lucky to have you _______. Have a good night. My manager wrote, Hey, heard you f*cking killed it tonight. Good job. You should be proud. The messages were such a nice surprise. It made the rest of my night.

The next night I was very handsomely compensated for the loss of half of my section. Now we just hold our breaths for the review...